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9 Tips for Mastering the Phone Interview During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Coronavirus has killed the face-to-face job interview, at least for the time being. Until the COVID-19 threat wanes — and possibly beyond — in-person interviews are a thing of the past, which is why it's more critical than ever before to sharpen your virtual interview skills if you are looking for a new job.

In most industries, shelter-in-place orders have put an end to face-to-face job interviews, replacing them with virtual options like phone and video interviewing. While months ago a phone interview was usually reserved for a perfunctory screening of candidates before they were brought in for a face-to-face interview, phone interviews seem poised to play a more crucial part in the hiring process as long as COVID-19 is around. Already, more than half of recruiters surveyed by Jobvite report making more phone calls in their recruiting.

For job seekers, phone interviews pose a unique set of challenges. You can't read the body language or facial expressions of your interviewer during your interactions to get a read on how your responses are landing, and it's more difficult to show your enthusiasm or friendliness when you aren't able to flash a smile. A lot is lost when you speak on the phone, but it's possible to make up for it with practice and planning.

To help you master this critical skill, here are nine tips for making a great impression during your next phone interview:

1. Be clear on the details

The first step: Pay attention to the details. Here are a few things you'll want to know before the interview begins:

  • If you are using a cellphone, make sure it is fully charged, turned on and able to receive calls (for example, make sure airplane mode is disabled). If you are using a landline and receiving the call, make sure no one in the household is on the phone, and don't forget to disable the call-waiting feature for the duration of your interview.
  • Have the interviewers' phone number. This is critical in the event the call drops. Having a phone number and a brief conversation before the interview to clarify what should happen if the call gets disconnected will save you a lot of headaches.
  • Know the time of the interview, as well as what time zone your interviewer is calling from. It's easy to mix-up the time of the interview without this information.
  • Gather the names of everyone you'll be speaking with, their job titles and the role they perform at the company. If you get their name, you can even do some brief research online to glean info on their career trajectory, or see if you have any connections in common before the call.
  • How long is the interview expected to last? You'll want to have extra time on either side of the call in case your interviewer is running late or the call runs over.

2. Research the company

Set aside some time to research the company before your telephone interview. Here is a quick checklist of things to read before your call:

  • Read the About Us page on the company's website. This will give you more information about the company's culture and mission.
  • Browse their social media pages to see what fans (and detractors) are saying about the company and its products or services.
  • See if they've been mentioned in the news recently.

3. Set the scene

You don't want to be distracted or uncomfortable on the call, so fine-tune your environment.

First, make sure you're calling from a room with no background noise. Close the window. If you have a fan, turn it off. The interviewer must be able to hear you.

Then, make yourself comfortable. To get in the right headspace, tweak your environment to your liking. If you prefer a chill atmosphere, set up a little workstation at your couch. If you communicate best when you're active, find a place to pace.

After all, they can't see you so do what makes you comfortable. However, make sure you never stray too far from a pen and paper. You should also have a glass of water nearby just in case your throat gets dry.

4. Practice makes perfect

You really can't over-prepare for an interview, which is why thinking through your responses to common questions is an easy way to make a great impression during a job interview.

Here are 10 questions you might be asked during your next phone interview:

  1. What are your greatest strengths? 
  2. What is your greatest weakness?
  3. Why are you leaving your current job? (or, why were you let go from your previous job?)
  4. Why are you interested in working for us?
  5. What are you most passionate about? 
  6. What is your greatest professional accomplishment? 
  7. What is your biggest failure?
  8. Tell us how you've handled a difficult situation.
  9. If we called her up, what would your former manager say about you?
  10. Why should we hire you?

5. Prepare your pitch

Now you're ready to write down your pitch — or the ways you plan to convince the interviewer that you are the right person for the role.

These will take a bit of thought, but having your answers written out beforehand will make it easier for you to find the right time to relay the information during the call.

Here are a few things you'll want to write out before your next telephone interview:

  • Why you'd be great a fit for the company
  • A list of two to three examples of your skills, plus real-life examples that illustrate how you've effectively used those skills at work
  • A list of one or two key professional achievements, along with details on how you reached your goals

6. Write a list of questions to ask the interviewer

This step is crucial and requires a bit of research. There's nothing worse than getting asked if you have any questions at the end of the interview and coming up empty-handed. Not having questions ready makes a candidate look unprepared or uninterested in the role, neither of which is the impression you want to give a recruiter.

To prepare questions, read the job description closely to understand what's expected of the position and come up with thoughtful questions. Here are five questions you might want to ask during your next phone interview:

  1. What is your top priority for the person who accepts this job?
  2. How do you see this position developing over time? 
  3. How will my performance be measured — by whom and how often?
  4. What do you enjoy most/least about working here?
  5. How would you describe the company's corporate culture?

7. Have a printed copy of your resume and cover letter ready

Whether you blank on your work history or need to properly name your certifications, having a copy of your resume in front of you is great for jogging your memory or generating ideas. Have a copy nearby at all times, as well as a pen, so you can jot down notes in the margins and refer to important bullet points as the call progresses.

Also, having a printed copy of the cover letter you provided with your application is a good idea in the event that the hiring manager references it during the call.

8. Smile and talk slowly

On the phone, you can't pick up on someone's body language or facial expression, which is a major disadvantage. Because you're missing out on important social and physical cues, you're more likely to accidentally interrupt the interviewer. You can lessen your chances by speaking slowly and allowing full pauses after thoughts.

At the same time, you want your enthusiasm for the role to shine through, so smile. A smile changes the way your voice is projected. Not convinced? Research shows that not only can people hear a smile, they unconsciously smile back. Employers want to feel like you want the job, and the best way to do that is by sounding happy and excited to be chatting with them. A smile, even over the phone, goes a long way towards expressing your interest.

9. Sell yourself

You've made a list of your skills and accomplishments before the call. Now it's time to use them. Selling yourself is critical in a job interview, and many job seekers find it uncomfortable. A phone interview is your time to tell an employer what you'll bring to the table, not a time to be modest or shy. 

Ultimately, don't go overboard no one wants to work with someone who's arrogant or sarcastic — but calibrating your confidence and enthusiasm meters correctly will help you stand out from other candidates.

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